The poultry industry is crying foul over the way a new plant-based chicken product is being presented to consumers.
The New Zealand Poultry Industry Association is asking the Commerce Commission to look at whether Sunfed’s packaging and presentation of the product is misleading under the Fair Trading Act.
Sunfed founder Shama Lee is not impressed – especially as no consumers have actually complained.
“Look, we are a small Kiwi start-up that is all about empowering the consumer with new choices,” Lee says.
“To suggest consumers won’t know they are buying Sunfed chicken instead of animal chicken is selling them a bit short.
“I think we should call this what it is: a big industry showing its strength to a small start-up who have just been in the market for three months.”
Lee said the packaging was signed off by lawyers before launch.
“Obviously we are very happy to work with the Commerce Commission in good faith. We are not about misleading anyone.”
New Zealand Poultry Industry Association boss Michael Brooks says the complaint is not because Sunfed is having any market impact.
“We have record numbers of people eating real chicken,” he says. “We’re at 41.5kgs a person a year. That’s not the issue.
“It has a picture of a chicken on the front. It refers to ‘meaty chunks’ and in our view it’s not meat. You have a picture of a chicken but you're advertising a product that is not chicken.”
Brooks says there are regulations and the complaint is about making sure everyone is sticking to them.
“We are asking what are the laws and regulations in this context,” Brooks says.
“It seems a curious one when we have real chicken and then you have a synthetic product but with a picture of a chicken on the front and calling it chicken. That’s our enquiry.”
The association is also asking whether the product complies with labelling requirements in the ANZ Food Standards Code. Unlike in some overseas jurisdictions, the code is not prescriptive about the use of particular words such as “chicken” but does require labelling to be accurate.
Lee says the packaging clearly says “chicken free” and “clean lean plant protein” right in the front.
“I feel pretty confident we haven’t violated anything.”
“No one from the poultry industry has ever come to me to discuss this in good faith, instead they've opted to threaten in the media on taking us to the Commerce Commission and Ministry of Primary Industries.
“Frankly, it's a bully tactic. Yes we're the small vulnerable guys here, but we have full trust in the consumer to see this for what it is.”